The Indian industrialist brothers – Srichand, Gopichand, Prakash and Ashok Hinduja, of the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with interests in oil, automobiles, banking and real estate, are making acquiring historic and heritage properties in London a game of Monopoly, buying not where the die rolls, but where their eye goes. In 2006, they bought 13-16 Carlton House Terrace, built in 1831, spread over 67,000 square feet in the City of Westminster, with Buckingham Palace close by, for £58 million from the Crown Estate and spent another £50 million in renovations before they could move in and call it home in 2011.
The brothers have since gone on to purchase Britain’s Old War Office (OWO) at Whitehall, for £1.2 billion in 2014. Designed by British architect William Young and originally completed in 1906, the OWO is a Grade II* listed building that has witnessed innumerable world-shaping events. The OWO’s 1,100 rooms and four kilometres of corridors, were used by Winston Churchill during World War II, leading Britain to wartime victory. Grand in size and stature both, with classic Edwardian baroque interiors, the OWO has since been renovated for over five years, in keeping with the rich legacy and the historical architectural elements of the building by the Hinduja Group at the helm of the 5,80,000 square feet redevelopment that cost a Gross Development Value of £1.2 billion. Interestingly, James Bond, the fictional MI6 icon of espionage, was conceived at the OWO when writer Ian Fleming worked in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Service, acting as key liaison with the department, overseeing Operation Goldeneye. As a result, the OWO has made starring appearances in 007 films like Skyfall, Spectre, License to Kill, A View to a Kill, Octopussy and No Time To Die over the years.
Once the planning approvals came from the Westminster City Council in July 2017, Britain’s former Old War Office went from being a government building, to a mixed-use building with a 250 year lease from the date of acquisition. After being closed to the public for more than a century, the OWO, now repurposed into a luxury hotel called Raffles London at The OWO, is all set to open in the spring of 2023.
“The OWO is my greatest legacy to London for future generations to enjoy,” says Gopichand Parmanand Hinduja, co-chairman of the Hinduja Group.
The 120 rooms and suites that comprise the OWO hotel, including a Winston Churchill Suite, have been designed by French architect and interior designer, Thierry Despont, known for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in New York as an associate architect in the 80s and transforming landmark buildings like The Getty Centre and Maison Cartier. The 85 branded residences, a first for Raffles in Europe, come with a heady mix of history, mystery and royal glamour set in an enviable location, making them the most expensive in London to date. They are priced upwards of £7.1million for a two-bedroom residence, £10million for a two-bedroom residence designed by Albion Nord and £14.25million for a three-bedroom residence designed by Angel O’Donnell, with prices including fixtures and fittings, but not the artwork. A four-bedroom residence 5.02, on the fifth floor, is an ode to the espionage history of the building. It is accessed through the Spies Entrance, a door used by MI6 staff after covert missions, and the name has been retained from 1909 when the British Secret Service Bureau was established as a department of the War Office. It still makes for discreet arrivals and departures, but not without the 24/7 monitoring by on-site security.
The OWO residences seem to have outperformed the Prime Central London market, with a new record for values achieved on a price per square foot basis, within months of their launch. A new benchmark of over £11,000 price per square foot was achieved on one of the unique turret residences, a four bedroom duplex. It is safe to say that the OWO residences, located in an unparalleled and iconic part of London, serviced by the Raffles team, are a coveted buy.
Not only is the OWO the Hinduja Group’s first foray into the hospitality business, but it is also the first Raffles hotel in London, and the first Guerlain Spa in London, exclusive to the Raffles London at The OWO too.
Philippe Leboeuf, Managing Director at Raffles London at The OWO confirms the opening of the hotel, “This staggering piece of British history will be open to the public for the very first time from Spring 2023, thanks to the Hinduja’s tireless work in sensitively conserving this significant address, partnering with experts including English Heritage, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and EPR Architects. This beacon of British heritage and modern craftsmanship will also be home to Raffles first hotel in the city, Raffles London at The OWO and it’s a once in a lifetime project for the Hinduja family which will become a new icon of global hospitality. Since acquiring the OWO, the Hinduja family have overseen the meticulous restoration of Britain’s former Old War Office with a vision and commitment to preserve its heritage, all the while breathing new life into the landmark.”
The acclaimed Italian-Argentine Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur (three Michelin stars) a modernist cuisine restaurant that he opened in 2006 in Menton, France, will be creating unique dining experiences set within the OWO’s most storied rooms, driven by a commitment to seasonality, local procurement, and sustainability. Chef Mauro was awarded the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in the 2022 honours list by the French government.
“Chef Mauro is undoubtedly one of the world’s most recognised chefs, with a phenomenal reputation and we’re excited to see him bring his experience to Raffles London at The OWO with concepts that are tailor-made for our well-travelled guests,” says Stephen Alden, CEO of Raffles & Orient Express.
Out of the nine restaurants and bars (including a rooftop restaurant and bar with expansive views across Whitehall, The Mall and Buckingham Palace) slated to open at the OWO, Paper Moon, a family-run Italian restaurant founded by Pio Galligani and his wife Enrica Del Rosso in Milan’s fashion district in 1977, is the first independent restaurant to have been announced so far. Paper Moon is located in a space overlooking Horse Guards Avenue. There are plans to open restaurants serving Indian, Japanese and French cuisines which are still under negotiation.
“These vibrant new restaurants will be part of the dynamic dining offer which will place The OWO as a new epicentre for London’s culinary scene, and sets the stage for an entirely new hospitality experience for visitors and Londoners,” says Madani Sow of Westminster Development Services.
This hospitality venture is the first of its kind in scale, spend and historical relevance, with an Indian business family restoring the history of a British landmark. It remains to be seen if the billions that The OWO has been bought, acquired and repurposed for, tempts the Hinduja family enough to make hospitality another key business for their group.
This feature first appeared in Hindustan Times on November 27th, 2022